The RIN SCG visit to the National Coastwatch Institution Station, Portland Bill took place yesterday, on a fine but rather windy day.
Mike Burgoyne, a past Director of the RIN and current Deputy Station Manager, hosted the Small Craft Group visit, together with Roger Sullivan, the Media Support Officer and Eleanore Fitzgeorge-Parker, the Quartermaster.
After a heart-felt welcome from Mike Burgoyne, who had served as RIN's Director for 10 years and had been a volunteer with the NCI for 18 years, Roger Sullivan gave the group a video presentation on the history of the station. All the NCI stations are independently run by groups of local volunteers who are responsible for both the management and financing of the stations. The Portland Bill station is built on Crown land and they pay an annual rent to the Crown. Although the volunteers give their time and expertise freely, including paying for their own uniforms, the Lookout costs around £8000 p.a. to run, so the volunteers are also engaged in fundraising. The local community has always been extremely supportive, participating in numerous fundraising events.
Portland Bill was one of the last Coastguard lookout stations to close in 1994; was saved from demolition in 1996 and was the 46th to re-open under the NCI banner in 1997. The station was completely re-built in 2004, doubling the size of the watch lookout. In 2012, HRH The Princess Royal opened the new Training Centre at the station, which is sited next to the Lookout and used on a regular basis for training new volunteers, all of whom go through a 6-7 week induction programme. Concurrent with opening of the new Training Centre, the station was also awarded the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service, during The Princess Royal's visit.
Volunteers, due to regular 4 hour shifts required, tend to be those no longer in work, looking for a hobby. Whilst there was a cadet section, this was not that well supported with young volunteers as there were other opportunities available in the area for them, including two Sea Cadet branches. However, the station was lucky in that there was no shortage of willing older volunteers.
The station is currently responsible for visually monitoring some 390 square miles, including sea, coastal cliffs and paths from 0700 to 1900, 364 days a year. This visual watch is assisted by the use of VHF radio, radar, AIS, high powered telescopes, binoculars, as well as CCTV via a camera that is installed on the seaward side of Portland Bill Lighthouse. A mandatory watch is kept on Channel 65, as anyone can call the NCI on this channel for local information, including weather, tidal, etc or advice. However, the channel is still under-used at present, despite widespread publicity.
The station forms part of the Dorset Search and Rescue organisation and has close links with their nearest Coastguard Station and they do sometimes get to use Channel 0, under the direction of the Coastguard.
The presentations concluded with a video about the wreck of the US LCT(A) 2454 on Chesil Beach which foundered during a storm on October 13th, 1944.
After the presentations, the group was split up into smaller groups to be shown round the Lookout by Mike Burgoyne, where RIN members and their guests met one of the Duty Officers. We also had the opportunity to gain hands-on experience of some of the equipment in use.
Mike and his wife then joined our group for an excellent lunch at The Lobster Pot restaurant on Portland Bill.
Many thanks to Mike and the team for hosting such an informative and enjoyable visit.
Don't forget to keep an eye open on the website for other RIN SCG activities that are available to members and their guests. These are advertised under the the Small Craft Group events pages on the website. Many of these activities require members to booking in advance, as places are limited and can fill up quickly, once an activity has been announced as open for bookings.